Tiwi Island traditional owner Adam Kerinauia lost his fight in the NT Supreme Court yesterday, but there is every indication that it ain’t over yet. Apart from the issues raised in Kerinauia’s case, there are many other aspects of the Tiwi Land Council’s administration of land and business management on the Tiwi Islands that are of serious concern and attention, not only for the Tiwi but for many who’ve been casting a keen eye from the mainland in recent years.

Adam Kerinauia applied for an injunction and declarations in relation to the Commonwealth’s proposals for a 99 year lease of the Bathurst Island township of Nguiu, the largest of the Tiwi Islands. Kerinauia’s case was that the landowning group for Nguiu, known as the Mantiyupwi Group, had been fundamentally misled about the future permit arrangements for Nguiu under the proposed lease.

He was also concerned that the decision-making process had been corrupted by bribery and forgery. This concern principally focused on a document purporting to be an accurate record of a meeting held on 9 May 2007 and of the signatures of adult Mantiyupwi agreeing to the Commonwealth’s final offer.

Adam Kerinauia insists that he was not present at the meeting but relied on an affidavit by Jeff Simon , a local Tiwi Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) and Captain of the legendary Tiwi Bombers NTFL team.

The permit issue came to a head following a further meeting held on 5th July 2007. After that meeting several Tiwi took their concerns to Marion Scrymgour, local member for the seat of Arafura.

Scrymgour wrote to Mal Brough seeking clarification not only on behalf of her Tiwi constituents, but also those at the mainland communities of Gunbalunya and Maningrida, where similar lease arrangements have been proposed. The Minutes for the 5th July meeting were included in an affidavit by John Hicks, the CEO of the Tiwi Land Council and included information provided to the meeting by both Hicks and FACSIA’s Carolyn Edwards. Hicks told the meeting that:

  • Senior Mantiyupwi traditional owner Walter Kerinauia had negotiated a special arrangement with the Commonwealth regarding permits at Nguiu that would come into force once the section 19A lease was granted;
  • The Land Council had not yet seen the document, but Mr. Hicks understood that the negotiated outcome was that people who currently needed to get a permit to come to Nguiu would still require a permit, only the permit would be issued under the authority of the lease rather than under the Aboriginal Land Act;
  • The new permits would be issued by Walter and the Consultative Committee established under the lease.

Brough replied to Scrymgour in August but failed to address the serious concerns she had raised about the discrepancies between what FACSIA and Brough had been telling the Tiwi and what Hicks had trumpeted as a sweetheart deal with the Commonwealth. Brough also ignored the failure by Edwards to correct what she would have known was wrong information.

From Crikey’s reading of Southwood J’s judgement there are plenty of points to support an appeal. Southwood J appears to have uncritically adopted the Tiwi Land Council’s submissions – not their evidence – in explanation of the presence of an “A. Kerinauia” signature on the minutes (see signatures of Ainsley K & Alan K on the list above). He has not accepted Jeff Simon’s evidence in relation to the cash-for-signatures claim and appears to have decided this issue at least partly on the basis of his apparent personal experience of Aboriginal people sometimes being paid to attend meetings.

But there’s every indication that Adam Kerinauia’s fight to rip the scab off what he maintains is a corrupted system isn’t over yet. Adam yesterday read out a statement  saying that he’d written to the NT Police Commissioner seeking an investigation into the 9 May meeting.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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